A world famous holiday destination, Penang offers sea, sun, fun and a whole lot more.
MORE ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE
Penang Island is one of those few places in the world that tend to defy simple definition. The island is a major tourist destination, offering many attractions of such variety that has led some locals boasting that Penang is an island that has it all. A mere boast, but the island does certainly comes close, seaside vacations by sandy pocket beaches, a cosmopolitan city, Georgetown, that also is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a slew of international and cultural events, highly acclaimed hawker fare, and a host of traditional products.
Unlike many other island destinations in Malaysia, Penang's rise to fame did not depend on its natural beauty, although its northern coast, with its many bays and pocket beaches, remains a firm favourite for holidaymakers and vacationers. The numerous luxury resort hotels that line the beaches of Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang continue to host at least half a million visitors annually.
Most of the island's population is concentrated on the east side of the island, stretching from the north, the traditional tourist belt area, towards Georgetown, and further down south, the industrial area of the island, and the newer townships. The west side of the island remains relatively undeveloped, with quaint villages spread along the coast and the winding road that rings the island.
Georgetown, with its UNESCO World Heritage listing, is study of contrasts, with many buildings that reflect different eras represented all throughout the area. Within the city are many of the historic clanhouses, trades and guilds associations, and eclectic houses that have maintained this city's unique character and charm through the years.
The island is connected by the Penang Bridge, the longest bridge in Asia. The iconic ferry service still carries its fair share of visitors between the island and the mainland, and many first time visitors often choose to use the ferry just for the experience.
Although Penang is an island, it is accessible to the rest of Peninsular Malaysia by road via the Penang Bridge that spans across the Straits of Malacca. There are plans to build a second bridge that connects the southern tip of the island to the mainland in order to ease the flow of traffic to and from the island. Unlike Singapore, there is no railway line linking Penang with the mainland.
All flights to Penang island utilise the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas, 16 kilometres from Georgetown. The airport handles a lot of traffic, with domestic flights between other major cities in Malaysia, and also international flights to a number of destinations worldwide.
Bus services to all major cities and towns in Peninsular Malaysia are offered at the city's bus terminal, Sungai Nibong Bus Station, just beside the Penang Pesta grounds in Sungai Nibong.
Travellers bound for Penang island via ferry disembark the Raja Tun Uda ferry terminal at Weld Quay from Butterworth. The ferry terminal is located within Georgetown and there is a bus station for local buses that ply the routes of the island.
Penang Island is an interesting destination for tourists, having a surprisingly high number of attractions and areas of interest. Most visitors to Penang will be drawn to the northern coast of the island, especially Batu Feringghi, a stretch of white sandy beach that is home to the island's most popular luxury resort hotels. A holiday atmosphere surrounds the entire area, with beach wear and sandals being the attire of choice. The excitement continues when the sun sets in Batu Feringghi as the main street that snakes through the town turns into a night bazaar filled with an assortment of cheap goods and trinkets. Vendors man these makeshift stalls set up just by the road, in front of open air restaurants, beer gardens and pubs that offer a variety of Eastern and Western dishes.
Past Batu Feringghi is Teluk Bahang, a beach area situated by a beautiful bay, from which it derives its name. Teluk Bahang has a rustic and quaint vibe, and is more laid back compared to Batu Feringghi, offering visitors a glimpse of local life on the coast. It is a beautiful area that combines the best that Penang has to offer, the sea and nature. A part of it is protected as the Penang National Park, encompassing the entire north western tip of the island. A large number of tourist attractions can also be found at Teluk Bahang, including the Tropical Spice Garden.
Air Itam, a settlement located inland, is another famous area that attracts throngs of visitors every weekend and holiday season, though most visitors are more apt to remember the names of the actual attractions rather than Air Itam itself. Penang Hill, with its iconic funicular hill railway, and Kek Lok Si, an amazing Buddhist temple complex, are both major attractions found in area.
Of course, no visit to Penang is complete without a stroll through Georgetown, the island's main city and state capital. Georgetown was jointly listed with Malacca as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, and much of the city's heritage is preserved not only in the buildings that make up this city, but also the people that live within it.
The southern part of the island, once the site of a failed settlement known as Jamestown, has undergone rapid development in the late 20th century, especially after the completion of the Penang Bridge, linking the island to the mainland. The bridge's signature feature, double sets of pillars held by high tension wires, against the backdrop of nearby Jerejak Island, is the first of many memorable sights that greet visitors to the island.
Penang has a rather packed schedule of annual events, which is not surprising when given the island's rich culture and it being a major tourist destination in Malaysia. While some events are held specifically for tourism purposes, others have much humbler origins, beginning as community gatherings and friendly contests. These events have now become mainstays of the island's event calendar, celebrations of life that are highly anticipated by both visitors and locals alike.
As the main city of Penang, Georgetown has its fair share of events as well. Most of them are discussed in the Events section of the Georgetown city page.
The oldest event organised by the Penang authorities, Penang Pesta marks the celebrations to close the year. Typically beginning at the end of November, this month long celebration ends with the countdown to the new year. The main attraction of the Penang Pesta is the carnival held nightly at the Pesta site in Sungai Nibong. Other events have been held in conjuction with Penang Pesta, including the Miss Penang Pesta Pageant, the Penang Chingay Parade, and most recently, the Pesta Dragon Boat Race.
Penang International Dragon Boat Festival
A mainstay of Penang events, this annual dragon boat race is one of the first races held outside of China. Its popularity is such that it attracts not only local teams from schools and asscoiations, but also international teams from abroad. The race is held as part of the celebration of the Duan Wu Festival in July.
Penang is a vibrant yet laid back place, with its own unique lifestyle. Its attractions offer a welcome distraction whenever people tire of their daily routine. With beaches dotting the northern coast, various natural attractions and the historic city of Georgetown, people in Penang are spoiled for choices when it comes to short weekend getaways and vacations on the fly. Visitors often feel that those in Penang have the best of both worlds – all the convenience of a modern city lifestyle but with the relaxed atmosphere of a summer holiday spot.
Malaysians view Penang as the country's food capital. Many Penangites swear that the food is the best in the country, and most of them miss their Penang favourites so much that they do not bother ordering other variations on dishes when they are away from the island. Beyond its famous hawker food, Penang is also known for its delicious seafood, nasi kandar, vegetarian food and all-you-can-eat buffets. Read more
One of the things that Penang is great but not so famous for is shopping! Penang gives a different kind of shopping experience to its visitors because though they will still leave with bags and bags of goodies, it's the items inside those bags which are unique. Don't be surprised to see many shops all over the island offering various types of traditional biscuits, with a variety of flavours for filling. Read more
Penang Outdoors and Beaches
Those who love adventure and the great outdoors will be thrilled to know that there's more to Penang than just the beaches. Places like Mukah Head and Penang Hill are great for a day of hiking and camping. Penang also has lovely parks and gardens like the Botanical Gardens and Municipal Park where casual strolls and picnics are highlights for all who visit. Read more
Penang is no stranger to history, occupying a special place of honour as one of the jewels of the British Empire. The island was given the moniker the Pearl of the Orient, and became an exotic destination for travellers, adventurers and of course, tourists. Many of them were well known personalities of their era and hailed from all corners of the globe.
Being a port, the island's history is filled with many stories of the varied people who settled there. The founder of Penang, Captain Francis Light, was quite an adventurous soul, entering into an agreement with the Kedah Sultan for the settlement rights to the island, establishing what became the British Empire's first presence in the Straits of Malacca. The fact that he managed to secure the agreement without any official backing has led to many debates over the ethical standards of the era.
The enterprising spirit exhibited by Light would become the island's unofficial trademark, with many other individuals rising to the occasion, each in their own time. Many of them were Chinese immigrants, who became known as the Straits Chinese, and were renowned for their business acumen, progressive thinking and of course, their opulent lifestyle. Their stately mansions can still be seen along what was known as the Millionaires' Row, a prime beachfront area with magnificient views of the sea.
Although many have claimed that Penang's golden era has long passed, the listing of Georgetown as a UNESCO World Heritage City has rekindled interest in the island's rich history. Only time will tell if Penang's best days are truly gone, or perhaps lie ahead just beyond the horizon.
The founder of Penang has long been a figure of some controversy. His pact with the Kedah Sultan for the island, and the actual terms contained within have been talked about for centuries. While there is no way to determine what transpired, Francis Light certainly had a sense of humour, naming one of his sons Lanun Light, in honour of his victory over a band of lanun, the Malay term for pirates. He succumbed to malaria in 1794 and was buried in Penang. His tomb can be seen at the old Christian cemetary at the end of Millionaires' Row.